Soggy ground, cooler temps a headache for farmers, gardeners
Soggy fields, sick vegetables and swarming mosquitoes have combined to make this summer a headache for farmers and gardeners.
From canteloupes to cotton, heavy rains and cooler temperatures have dampened prospects for South Carolina’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry.
Canteloupes are smaller and not as sweet, and the harvest is down at least 30 percent, said Mark Arena, a Clemson University extension agent in the tri-county area.
Weather-related crop problems are widespread, officials said.
Stands of cotton are flooded. Fewer acres of soybeans have been planted because of a delayed wheat harvest caused by soppy soils.
“Compared to last year, I would say it’s been a bad year, a big headache,” said Jonathan Croft, a Clemson extension agent in Berkeley, Dorchester and Orangeburg counties.
Agriculture is an $18 billion industry in the Palmetto State.
“It’s a major economic driver,” said Aaron Wood, an assistant commissioner at the state Department of Agriculture.
“There is certainly going to be some level of economic loss for farmers,” he said. “I can’t speak to the level of that loss. We’re not through playing the game yet.”
This was the sixth-wettest and the 22nd-coldest June in the past 84 years. More rain and cooler temps mean that it takes longer for the ground to dry out, said assistant state Climatologist Wes Tyler.
“It’s interrupted farm operations over a lot of the growing counties in South Carolina. The farmers, they aren’t happy. It’s just way too much rain,” Tyler said.
On Johns Island, Thomas Legare Jr. said the tomato crop at the family farm has suffered.
“It’s just sloppy wet. Too much rain can cause a tomato to split,” he said.
Legare said farmers could face a hay shortage this winter because baling was set back a month by heavy rains.
The 13 inches of precipitation recorded in June at Charleston International Airport is 7.7 inches above the long-term average. The most rain recorded in June at the airport was 27 inches in 1973. So far, July rainfall totals at the airport are not much above normal, he said.
Backyard gardeners are getting hit by the weather, too.
The rains created a perfect breeding ground for plant fungal diseases, said Sarah Petrowski of Hyams Garden Center on James Island.
“There’s a lot of fungus,” Petrowski said. “We’ve definitely seen a lot of root rot. A lot of plants are just rotting.”
Cloudy days and lots of rain can lead to lawn fungus, she said. However, fig and banana trees thrive in the wet weather, she said.
Puddles of rain on already-soaked soils create breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
“With this much rain, you are going to have freshwater mosquitoes. We have stepped up our spraying,” said Donna Odom, Charleston County mosquito control superintendent.
The county anti-mosquito effort is a seven-day-a-week operation. The war against the blood-sucking insects is waged by helicopter, plane and by truck.
The county receives scores of requests for help from residents seeking relief from the pests.
“Several hundred calls this week,” Odom said.
She urged property owners to get rid of places where standing water collects on their land.
“They may be breeding their own mosquitoes,” she said.